Every time Steve Jobs gets on stage to announce products, there’s a flood of information. First, there’s what Jobs says. Then, there’s what the Apple press releases say. And then there’s all the information that Apple doesn’t broadcast right away, but trickles out gradually in interviews and on its Web site.
It can be a bit overwhelming. So we’re tackling the most common questions stemming from Apple’s
October 12 press event, one product at a time. In other stories, you’ll find answers to your burning questions about
new iMacs and
iTunes 6. Below, we answer frequently asked questions about the
Is this new iPod screen really big enough—and good enough—to watch video?
It probably depends a lot on how good (or bad) your vision is and what you’re expecting when you watch video. People with poor vision aren’t going to enjoy staring at a tiny video screen, and if you appreciate all the sumptuous visual feasts that modern-day cinematography has to offer, you will likely be disappointed.
That said, I’ve spent many hours watching video at the same resolution (320-by-240 pixels) on a similarly-sized display on my Palm Treo 650 smartphone, and found it to be a pretty enjoyable way to while away my commute. Granted, I was watching Survivor rather than the great works of modern cinema, but it worked for me and it might work for you.
I was suitably impressed by the iPod’s screen—it really is bright, and the video looked quite smooth. You’ll never mistake it for a plasma screen, but then, you can’t put a plasma screen in your pocket.
Also, the iPod supports video out, so for a truly bigger display you can also connect your iPod to a TV set and play back video that way. The iPod currently only supports H.264 video at 320-by-240 pixels, and MPEG-4 video up to 480-by-480 pixels, so your TV set will still be displaying a lower-resolution picture than you’re accustomed to.
Can I only watch content I’ve downloaded from Apple on my iPod?
Not at all. In addition to the videos from Apple, the iPod can play back videos saved in one of two formats: H.264 (the format used in Apple’s iTunes downloads) and MPEG-4. The same day it announced the new iPod, Apple released QuickTime 7.0.3, which adds a “Movie to iPod (320×240)” option in the Export dialog box. This means users of QuickTime pro can export movies (and all users of iMovie can export projects) to the iPod fairly easily.
There are lots of other programs out there that convert video to and from various formats, including MPEG-4. In the next few weeks many of them will likely be updated to explicitly point out which of their export formats are iPod compatible.
In addition, Apple has posted a brief tutorial about
creating video for the iPod.
Will the iPod support other video formats in the future?
Apple says the new iPod’s firmware is upgradable, meaning it can be modified to add “support for future video formats.” What those might be is unknown, but Apple’s certainly leaving the door open to supporting other formats in the future.
Can I create video playlists, like I can audio playlists?
Yes, the iPod supports video playlist created in iTunes 6. You apparently can’t mix and match audio and video tracks for iPod playback, though, which is too bad.
Will my current iPod
accessories work with the video iPod?
It depends. The video iPod uses the same dock connector as all recent iPods, so any dock-based accessories will probably work fine. This iPod’s slightly thinner than previous models, so a new iPod may seem a bit small when attached to some accessories.
However, if you’ve got an accessory that took advantage of the remote-control port next to the iPod’s headphone jack, you’re out of luck—Apple has dropped that jack entirely (along with its companion, the wired iPod remote), making remote-control-port-based iPod accessories obsolete.
Stay tuned to
Playlist for a complete rundown on what current iPod accessories work with the new iPods, as well as information on the new wave of fifth-generation iPod accessories that are on their way.
Does this new iPod support FireWire or USB?
With the release of this new iPod, Apple’s iPod line is entirely USB-based. You can use a FireWire cable to charge the iPod, but data transfer can only be done via USB. This is especially bad news for users of Macs without USB 2.0 ports, because USB 1.1 transfer speeds are phenomenally slower than FireWire. (If you’re really lucky maybe someone will come up with a clever USB 2-to-FireWire bridge device, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.) And if you’re using a USB 2.0 Mac but an older USB 1.1 hub, you may be in the market for a new USB 2.0 hub to ensure fast iPod transfer speeds.
Why did Apple dump FireWire on the iPod?
Apple sells iPods to Mac and Windows users alike, and Windows PCs often lack FireWire ports—but they always have USB ports. So iPods must support USB in order to be broadly compatible with PCs. Our guess is that Apple dropped FireWire in order to simplify the product, shrink some components, and reduce its costs. Don’t expect it to come back.
What’s the battery life like?
We haven’t been able to test one ourselves yet, so we have to go by Apple’s specs for now. In terms of music playback, the
60GB model is rated for 20 hours and the
30GB model for 14 hours.
But when the iPod plays back music, it only uses its hard drive sporadically, turning it on just long enough to fill its memory buffer full of music. That saves a lot of energy. In contrast, video playback requires that the hard drive work almost constantly—and as a result, battery life drops dramatically. Apple says the 60GB iPod is good for three hours of playback, and the 30GB model only two hours. So if you’re planning on loading an iPod up with videos for a long plane trip, you’ll probably need to buy an external battery such as the
BTI iPod Battery.
Can I use this new iPod for slideshows?
Yes, and Apple’s declared battery life there is somewhat better—up to 3 hours for the 30GB model and up to 4 hours for the 60 GB model. And Apple has added support for a whole host of new slideshow transitions on this iPod, so your iPod-based slideshows will look a lot more like iPhoto slideshows or Keynote presentations than they did before.
Does the iPod finally support CD-quality audio recording?
Indeed it does. In the past, the iPod’s operating system limited audio recording to 8KHz, 16-bit mono via an external device such as Griffin’s
iTalk. According to Apple’s published specifications, the new iPod supports two audio recording modes: a “low-quality” mono mode at 22.05KHz, and a CD-quality 44.1 KHz stereo mode.
What’s as yet unclear is if you can simply attach a microphone to the iPod and begin voice recording or if you’ll need a yet-to-be-released third-party audio-input accessory.